'It can feel like Harry Potter'

Burlington man--Adam Chandler (NC & Queen's 2006)--wraps up 2 years at Oxford
Mike Wilder  

Oxford University is the oldest university in the English-speaking world. Its architecture reflects its history, and British poet Matthew Arnold described the university and surrounding city as "the city of dreaming spires."

Adam Chandler, a Burlington native who is wrapping up two years of study there, describes it in more 21st-century terms.

"It can feel like Harry Potter at times," he said. "It's very archaic. It's very tradition-bound."

Probably the most obvious example is the requirement that students dress formally to take their final exams. This spring, he took two exams wearing a dark suit, white shirt and white bow tie, topped off with his academic gown.

That blend of formality and tradition isn't unusual at Oxford, and though it may not be what Americans are used to, Chandler said, "after a while you just settle down and accept it."

A proposal in 2006 to make formal dress for exams voluntary was defeated overwhelmingly by students. Chandler thinks they like the connection to the past: "It's just something that makes you feel like you're part of a grand tradition."

Chandler, who plays cello, said the only time he's worn a tuxedo in the United States is for orchestra concerts. At Oxford, there were plenty of dinners, balls and parties that required one.

Chandler studied at Oxford after being selected as a Rhodes Scholar in late 2005. The university and city of Oxford are about a 90-minutes' drive northwest of London.

THE SCHOLARSHIPS were created by British diamond magnate Cecil Rhodes, for whom the African country of Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe, was named. He died in 1902 and in his will left money to start the program. Each year, about 85 students from more than a dozen countries receive the scholarships.

Chandler did math research during his first year at Oxford. The second year, he studied higher education, in which he expects to receive a master's degree this fall after completing his thesis. It's about erratic sleep patterns and lack of sleep among college students.

In many ways, Chandler said, his academic experiences at Oxford were less intense than his undergraduate studies at Duke University. Part of that is the way the academic year is set up in three parts, with breaks in between. The breaks meant he could travel to countries such as France, Spain, Germany, the Czech Republic, Monaco, Scotland and Tunisia.

"I quickly learned there's no one better to travel with than a Rhodes Scholar," Chandler said. "Somebody speaks the language, no matter where you are."

Chandler was part of a group that went to Israel on a trip sponsored by the American Jewish Committee. He and other group members saw the same landmarks American leaders such as Barack Obama, John McCain and congressional delegations have seen during trips to the country.

"All of the itineraries look exactly like what we did," he said.

AT OXFORD, Chandler enjoyed hanging out in pubs, which attracted students and other community members. The name is a shortened version of "public house."

Though he'd been warned by previous Rhodes Scholars about anti-Americanism, Chandler never saw much of it.

Chandler will be student at Yale Law School beginning in August. He wants to specialize in constitutional law.

He isn't sure what he wants to do after law school. He thinks he might want to be a law professor, but also has some interest in becoming an attorney whose specialty is working on cases that are heard by the Supreme Court or federal appeals courts. Admittedly, he said, "that's a very rarefied group."

But he's gotten a good start. Last summer, he worked for a Washington, D.C. law firm and did research and writing for a blog that covers the U.S. Supreme Court. The Web address is www.scotusblog.com. If you do a site search using Chandler's name, it will turn up posts he wrote or contributed to.

Chandler knows law school will return his life to the faster pace of his undergraduate years.

"Getting off the hamster wheel was just a really good experience for a couple of years," he said. "I'm going to miss that in law school."

The Adam Chandler file

Age: 23

Hometown: Burlington

Family: He's the son of Chan and Cindy Chandler. His older brother, Jason, works for the athletics department at High Point University. His sister, Helen, graduated from Williams High School in June and starts next month as a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Education: After graduating from Williams High School in 2002, Chandler went to Duke University. He graduated in 2006 with a degree in math. He's wrapping up two years at Oxford University in England as a Rhodes Scholar and will begin studying at Yale Law School in August.

Why you may remember him: Chandler scored a perfect 1600 on the SAT in 2001, earning an 800 on both the verbal and math sections in the test's old format.

See http://www.thetimesnews.com/news/chandler_16002___article.html/oxford_university.html